Thursday, November 16, 2006

RCIA: Week Three

Originally posted in my personal journal on November 6, 2006 regarding RCIA on November 5, 2006:

Sunday, November 5 marked my third week as a Candidate in the RCIA program and our second RCIA session. Tom and I met Melissa in the vestibule prior to 9am Mass and sat together in the reserved seating area until I, along with the other Candidates and Catechumens, was dismissed prior to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. During our dismissal session, we discussed the homily in relation to our Old Testament reading:

These then are the commandments, the statutes and decrees which the Lord, your
God, has ordered that you be taught to observe in the land into which you are
crossing for conquest, so that you and your son and your grandson may fear the
Lord, your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes
and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life. Hear then,
Israel, and be careful to observe them, that you may grow and prosper the more,
in keeping with the promise of the Lord, the God of your fathers, to give you a
land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord
alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and
with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which
I enjoin on you today. -- Deuteronomy 6:1-6

Our facilitator for this week explained the passage as such: At that time, God's people were living in a culture with several deities, a pantheon of gods, so to speak, and as such, they showed reverence to one God above all other gods by praying the shaman (which I may have spelled incorrectly) twice daily. In this particular passage, God is setting forth the greatest of the Ten Commandments: to hold no other god before Him, stating that keeping this Great Commandment will allow the people to prosper -- the implication being that adherence to the other "lesser" commandments naturally flows from adherence to the Great Commandment. In addition, the use of the word "enjoin" tells us that failure to adhere to the Great Commandment will result in the wrath of God since the denotative definition of "enjoin" is "to order." Simply, if the people want to prosper, they must commit totally to loving God and none other above Him. The question to ponder was: "How does that passage make you feel?"

One of my classmates answered that it struck fear into him because he felt that no one could do the right thing all the time and that no one could be one-hundred-percent committed to something one-hundred-percent of the time. To him, the expectation of total committment was daunting. I, on the other hand, had the opposite reaction. As I explained it, I was raised in the fire-and-brimstone faith (Pentecost) and grew up with the impression that the line between Heaven and Hell was almost impossibly thin because the focus was largely upon the Wrath of God (i.e. fear). So, to me, the idea of salvation being as simple as committing to God -- loving Him, trusting His will, etc -- is freeing because it allows me to let the little things go and to place all things in His hands -- which isn't always easy but, when combined with His mercy, is usually a lot easier than analyzing my own judgement of every little issue. To place my salvation within the context of commitment to God and my faith is to trust that the right path will flow naturally from Him -- which is more reassuring than having to trust myself to have the answers.

During our break, our sponsors (and Tom) joined us, along with a future seminarian, to discuss our reading from the Gospels (notice how the Old Testament and Gospel readings are always related to one another):

One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how
well he had answered them, asked him, "Which is the first of all the
commandments?" Jesus replied, "The first is this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our
God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with
all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is
this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment
greater than these." The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher. You are right
in saying, 'He is One and there is no other than he.' And 'to love him with all
your heart with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your
neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, "You are
not far from the kingdom of God." And no one dared to ask him anymore questions.
-- Mark 12:28-34

In this scripture, the Great Commandment is repeated, but Jesus also adds one more commandment of equal importance: loving your neighbor as you love yourself. In doing so, the Ten Commandments are summarized into two commandments: place no other gods before Me, and love thy neighbor. To love God and be committed to Him, one must consciously decide to love their "neighbors" for our neighbors were created in his image and are part of the body of Christ, and to walk the path of treating their neighbors with love, one must call upon the strength of God for we and our neighbors are human, imperfect, and, therefore, not always lovable. The two commandments are eternally united, and all other commandments flow from them.

But how inclusive is the term 'neighbor,' and how does this love for God & neighbor sanctify our daily living?

In theory, a 'neighbor' should be anyone in the world, but to most of us, a 'neighbor' is someone we come into contact with regularly and directly. But would any of us really have a problem if 'neighbors' included only our family, friends, and maybe even co-workers? Most likely, we wouldn't. Most of us do our best to limit contact with people we find unpleasant and, instead, surround ourselves with people we love and whom love us. But what is the challenge in loving those who love you? Instead, we must be mindful to include everyone we come into contact with as our 'neighbor' whether that person is a friend, a family member, a cranky customer, the guy who cuts us off in traffic and flips us the bird, the goofy looking kid covered in pentagrams and eyeliner at the mall, etc. Everyone we come into contact with -- no matter how direct, indirect, or marginal -- is our neighbor. They were created in God's image and, therefore, have some redeeming quality, and while it is not our responsibility to force ourselves onto others or to allow seemingly despicable people to drain our energy to the point of having nothing left to care for ourselves and our families, it is our responsibility to take time to respond rather than to react to them, to recognize that God knows their heart and what makes them act in the manner they choose, to recognize a need and to help if we can, and to "take the high road" just as we would want it taken with us. Through that, we conserve energy that might be wasted upon senseless rage and retribution, show our love for and committment to God, enjoy the inner peace that comes from keeping faithful, and, indeed, become more like Him in our capacity for forgiveness and acceptance.


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